Slashing Spending on School Supplies

by David Ning · 2 comments

Whether your child is heading off to their first year of kindergarten or their final year of college, saving money on school supplies is just plain smart. As school systems face the challenge of teaching more kids on a smaller budget, parents are being asked to provide a lot more than a couple of pencils and a notebook.

Long lists are coming home during the summer requesting everything from paste to pencils. While you expect to purchase more for a college student, the prices there keep going up as well.

Get Everything Your Child Needs for Less

The latest version of the “school supply” list arrived in mid August. Each of my children needed pencils, notebooks, folders, glue, rulers, scissors, and the list went on and on for a full page. Worse, from my perspective, none of the supplies was personal. They all went into a general pool from which all children would take what they needed.

The first step was to scavenge around the house. Many of the supplies were similar to those requested last year. Fortunately, unused supplies do return at the end of the school year, so scissors, ruler and other such items were already set aside in anticipation.

Next, I created a master list of all the supplies needed. Three kids equals nine dozen pencils, yes, you read that right. Buying these items in bulk at the warehouse club is often cheaper than picking up smaller boxes.

Checking circulars meant traveling to several stores, but getting folders for a penny each when you need 20 pays off. While I won’t go to a store for just one item (gas costs money too you know), if several items were cheapest at another location, you can bet I made it over there.

College Costs Enough As Is; Scrimp Where You Can

Remember that there are many fine State schools that are much less expensive than private universities. Once you get over the sticker shock of tuition, room and board, textbooks are one of the largest hurdles you face. College textbooks can easily cost in excess of $100 a piece, and most classes will require several books. Paying full price is criminal in my opinion.

If you have a friend who took the class during the previous semester, see if you can borrow their book. Professors often reserve copies of their textbooks at the library. You may need to read the book there, but it’s free. Copying pages you need for studying purposes is much cheaper than purchasing the book, even if it takes some time. Freecycling groups online may be able to help you get a used textbook for nothing or just the price of shipping.

If you must purchase a book, get it used. There are plenty of websites that sell used textbooks for a fraction of the cost of new. Shop early to increase your chances of getting the book you need at the price you can afford.

While a good education is priceless, there is no reason to pay excessively for the experience. Values abound, if you are willing to plan ahead and make an effort.

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  • Jill says:

    I am so surprised that you buy school supplies and then it goes into a bucket at school and everyone shares it. So, kids do not have their own pencil case w/their supplies in it? I have a young child who is not school age yet, so that is why I ask. As far as advice for college, definitely buy used when you can, but do not “buy into” the previous readers highlighted marks. What is important to them, might not be what is important to you.

  • Steve Jobs says:

    It really is a headache for parents when their kids at college ask for money for their textbooks. I often tell my kids, look for some used textbooks that are on sale or borrow from your friends first before we buy a new one. Else, borrow the textbook at your library and photocopy it.

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